Over the years we rock fans have been treated to a steady stream of awesome cover songs, dating back to the early days of rock and roll [Elvis Presley’s 1956 hit Hound Dog was actually a cover of a 1952 hit by Big Mama Thornton]. Pretty much every successful rock band has recorded at least one cover. Here are my favorites!
Early in their career the Beatles did a number of covers, two of which are among my favorites: Twist and Shout, originally done by the Isley Brothers, and You Really Got a Hold On Me, originally recorded by Smokey Robinson.
Jimi Hendrix version of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower would likely be considered the best rock cover song if a worldwide poll were to be taken. Although not my personal favorite, it’s right up there.
In 1964, J Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers recorded a song called Last Kiss. It was originally written in 1961 by James Tarver, whose daughter was killed in a tragic car – train collision. Wilson and the Cavaliers took the song all the way to #2 on the Billboard top 100. Pearl Jam covered the song in 1999 after lead singer Eddie Vedder discovered an old record at an antique mall in Seattle. I love Pearl Jam’s version of the song and have played it at many campfire sing-alongs.
Guns ‘n Roses
Guns ‘n Roses were well known for their cover songs. They did some beauties, including Knockin on Heaven’s Door, originally recorded by Bob Dylan.
In 1975, during a drunken recording session, John Lennon and a bunch of his cronies recorded an album of cover songs, including one of my favorites, Stand By Me, originally done by Ben E King. King apparently wrote the song in 1961 for the Drifters but recorded himself when the Drifters passed on it. Lucky for Ben E!
The Mojo Men
In 1966, when he was with Buffalo Springfield, Stephen Stills wrote a song called Sit Down I Think I Love You. It wasn’t released as a single by Buffalo Springfield, but a year later a little known band out of San Francisco called the Mojo Men released it as a single and it went to #36 on the Billboard top 100. I have liked this song ever since I first heard it in 1967 and I actually won a free album by guessing it as the morning mystery oldie on Canadian radio station Q107 in 1986.
Before I get to the song that I consider to be the best cover song I’d like to mention a few notables including:
- Janis Joplin’s Me and Bobby McGee, originally written by Kris Kristofferson
- Elton John’s Pinball Wizard, originally recorded by The Who
- The Rolling Stones’ Like a Rolling Stone, originally recorded by Bob Dylan [the Stones left out the third verse, instead doing an instrumental, but it’s still an awesome version]
- Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Woodstock, written by Joni Mitchell
- Harry Nilsson’s Without You, written by Badfinger
- Blue Rodeo’s To Love Somebody, originally recorded by the Bee Gees
- Joe Cocker’s With a Little Help From My Friends, originally done by the Beatles
- KD Lang’s Hallelujah, written by Leonard Cohen [not a rock song, but it’s awesome]
Now, lets get to the top two!
Manfred Mann’s Earth Band:
In 1973, Bruce Springsteen released his first album which featured the song, Blinded by the Light. Neither the album nor the song fared very well, but in 1976 Manfred Mann’s Earth Band covered Blinded by the Light and turned it into a global smash hit. It was both an artistic and commercial success, and in my view, the second best cover song ever recorded.
Until recently, I would likely have chosen Manfred Man’s version of Blinded by the Light as my favorite cover song, but when you take the best rock song ever written and make it better, you likely deserve to be recognized for your effort. There was a time when I believed certain songs should never be covered, but then Heart covered Stairway to Heaven and that changed all that. If you haven’t seen their 2012 performance at the Kennedy Center you’re in for a treat. And so, my pick for the best rock cover song is Heart’s version of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. It is in a word, awesome!
If you’re not familiar with any of these songs, I urge you to check them out. They’re pretty awesome!
And speaking of awesome, have an awesomely covered day!